There are now six months until the DRC’s presidential election, scheduled for December 23. Candidates will file papers starting July 24. It is a good moment to review who is likely to run, and who has the best chances against Kabila’s party, the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).
There is a crowded field of opposition candidates. Concerns are running high that they will split the general vote, enabling Kabila’s party to win with a plurality as small as 25%. Many observers are urging the opposition to unify behind a single presidential candidate who stands a good chance of defeating the PPRD.
Will Kabila Run?
The PPRD is waiting with bated breath for their leader to make a definitive statement about the future. Will Kabila find a constitutional maneuver to run for a third term? Or will he respect the two-term limit, and announce he will hand over power to the winner of the December 23 election? If he agrees to leave the presidency, will he announce a chosen heir to be the candidate of the presidential majority?
At the moment, there is a general consensus that Kabila will not be a candidate. As for an heir apparent, most observers point to former Prime Minister Matata Mpoyo. Another potential heir is Aubin Minaku, President of the National Assembly. Mr. Minaku has stated that if he is not selected as the PPRD’s official candidate, he will run as an independent. Mr. Mpoyo is not considered a strong candidate because he lacks a political base or a strong public personality. Mr. Minaku would clearly be the stronger of the two.
Prospects for a free and fair election
The DRC’s most recent presidential election took place in 2011. Kabila won in a controversial result. Former US President Jimmy Carter, who headed a team of American election observers, said he could not certify Kabila’s victory because there were too many irregularities. Both international observers and ordinary Congolese citizens did not believe the official results, and felt that the true winner was the late Etienne Tshisekedi.
Skepticism about the 2011 election has been reinforced by the Kabila regime’s multiple failures to hold the presidential election first scheduled for November 2016. This repeated process of delay, negotiation, and more delay has continued since then. Now that the election will finally be held two years late, the big question is whether or not it will be transparent, free and fair.
Both the international community and the Congolese people are now focused on this question. The Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) is doing everything possible to assure the public that they will be conducting an honest election. Included in this promise is the purchase of several hundred thousand electronic voting machines. Some skeptics are saying that the use of these machines will make fraud easier, and they are urging CENI to continue using paper ballots. CENI’s adamant position on this issue has darkened the cloud of skepticism lingering over the December polls.
On a recent visit to Washington, CENI President Corneille Nangaa described the machines as similar to those used in Washington DC. If this is indeed the case, Mr. Nangaa should know that the world will know instantly if CENI and the Kabila regime manipulate the election and issue fraudulent results. If that happens, unlike in 2011, the entire international community – as well as the Congolese people – will reject them. Kabila is sorely mistaken if he believes a falsified election will be allowed to slide.
These candidates have openly declared their intent to run, but there may be others who will declare their interest in the last week of July, when paperwork must be filed.
Jean-Pierre Bemba (Movement for the Liberation of the Congo)
The ICC’s surprise acquittal of former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba has made the opposition side of the presidential election even more complicated.
The MLC is expected to nominate Bemba as its candidate for the presidency at its next party congress, scheduled for July 12-13. The party has strong voter support in the DRC’s northwestern region, centered on the city of Mbandaka. The MLC also has many supporters living in the capital Kinshasa. Many observers believe Bemba, not Kabila, was the real winner of the 2006 election, and that the results were manipulated. In any event, it is clear that Bemba benefits from a substantial popular following.
Moïse Katumbi (Together for Change)
Polls show Moïse Katumbi, former Governor of Katanga, is currently the most popular politician in the DRC and would likely win a free and fair election. Unfortunately, because of this strength – and personal animosity between Katumbi and President Kabila – the government is doing everything possible to prevent him from running. At the moment, he is living in exile in Belgium after the Kabila regime had him convicted on trumped-up charges. He continues to fight for a free return to his country and a chance to run in the election.
On June 25, Katumbi said he supports a union between all of the opposition parties, including Bemba, to defeat Kabila. While this does not yet mean a single unity candidate, it is an important step towards consolidating the fractured opposition into a force capable of denying Kabila’s PPRD an electoral victory.
Felix Tshisekedi (Union for Democracy and Social Progress)
Mr. Tshisekedi is head of the important UDPS party, a position he inherited from his late father Etienne, probably the most loved politician of his generation and likely the true winner of the 2011 election. In early June, Katumbi came to Washington with Felix and jointly appeared at a number of meetings, where they pledged to work together for the presidential election. Because of his father’s legacy, Felix is likely to attract a significant vote share.
Vital Kamerhe (Union for the Congolese Nation)
The former President of the National Assembly is a political power in the eastern Congo’s two Kivu provinces, as well as in Maniema and Ituri. He is likely to be nominated during his party’s congress in July. Kamerhe has significant name recognition throughout the DRC, and he must be considered an important competitor.
Freddy Matungulu (Our Congo)
A former Finance Minister and top World Bank official, Mr. Matungulu has his own political party and is actively campaigning. He is a member of the opposition alliance. This will be his first presidential election, and his level of popular support is unknown, but probably low.
Noel Tshiani (No Party)
Recently retired from the World Bank, Noel Tshiani has been promoting a “Marshall Plan for the DRC” to kickstart rapid economic growth and poverty reduction. He has indicated he will be filing papers to run for president in July. He does not have a political party, and his popularity is unknown.